(Tonight I am telling Mitchell’s story on video for Sunday’s services. The version below is condensed from how I usually tell it – three minutes of footage dictates less details Pray that though I need to be concise, the message will remain clear – that hope and the ability to be grateful in the middle of great pain is possible. Beauty among the horrible. This is Mitchell’s story and mine…and ultimately, of course, God’s.)
You know that one thing you pray will never happen to you? The one thing that you know would absolutely destroy you? We all have one, right?
I had mine.
I knew I could never endure the death of a child, sure it would be the end of me. “God knows I couldn’t handle it,” I thought.
Every time I had an ultrasound during my first four pregnancies, every time I gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby, I breathed a heartfelt prayer of thanks for the gift of life. There was never a time in my life that was easier or more natural to be grateful. I loved being a mom. I lived to be a mom.
So when my fifth pregnancy came along, though it was a huge surprise, it was just another wonderful reason to thank God for the blessing of another little face to join our little crowd.
The pregnancy went seamlessly. Ultrasounds looked perfect. About halfway through the 40 weeks, we found out it was a boy. A sweet boy to join our three daughters and one son who came before him. I was ecstatic! My son would have a brother to play with and my girls would have another baby to “mother”. And my husband and I would thank God once again for the precious family He’d been so gracious to give us.
That day we named him Mitchell. That day we planned where he would sleep and what he might wear home from the hospital. That day we figured out how we would fit another chair around the kitchen table.
And that day, God whispered something in my ear that I hoped never to hear – “This child will be a blessing, but you won’t have him for very long.”
The words were clear, but what did it mean? Would I miscarry? Would he be a stillbirth? God knew I couldn’t handle either scenario. I must have misheard.
But the message didn’t fade. It was gentle and not frightening. And somehow I wasn’t afraid. The fear of those words was somehow trumped by Who spoke them. It was tender, compassionate, almost tearful, but clear and unchanging.
I enjoyed Mitchell’s pregnancy probably more than my others. Maybe because I knew this would be my last pregnancy. Maybe because I believed these could very well be my last months with him. All I know is that I savored every drop of those last 4 1/2 months. Unlike my other pregnancies, I didn’t rush it. I just thanked God for every day that I still felt his tiny feet kicking inside of me.
And then August 12, 1996 came. And with it a beautiful dark haired little boy, screaming and carrying on. My Mitchell was here! (picture) He’d survived all nine months and the birth process. Can you even imagine how happy I was? But I was happy AND confused. The message had been so clear. How had I gotten it so wrong?
You would think I would be relieved beyond words, but the pit in my stomach would not go away. Not when we went home from the hospital. Not when he woke up and rested in the arms of each of his family members every morning. Not even when the pediatrician on three separate visits those first 10 days said that he was perfect and healthy.
There are many details between his 11th day of life and his 15th, but the short version is that we found out that Mitchell had three heart defects, two of which were fatal if he didn’t have surgery immediately. Devastated, we waited and cried and prayed through the countless hours of his operation. The unspeakable torment of not knowing a certain outcome. And so we prayed. It was all we could do.
He did come through the surgery and 24 hours later was shocking the doctors with his strength and endurance. But at the 48 hour mark, things suddenly changed for the worse. Machines were beeping, screaming that something was very wrong. Doctors and nurse flooded in and surrounded him, desperately trying to keep life from spilling out of this little 7 pound body.
I was rushed to another room, away from the scene, where friends and family were waiting. Tears were flowing. Prayers were almost violent. Everyone praying for God’s healing touch on my little boy’s life.
And then, without warning, I was wrapped in something that I can only describe as the physical presence of God. I knew that this was what I’d been forewarned about. This was Mitchell’s homecoming back to Jesus. And as I symbolically lifted him up to God in prayer, I felt Jesus’s hands on mine as He lifted him up to heaven. The one thing that I could never do, never survive had just happened. I couldn’t do this, but God could. I couldn’t handle the weight of this loss, but He could. And God was right there with me in it.
If I sit down with you one on one, I will tell you stories you wouldn’t believe about the people who came to know Jesus as a result of Mitchell’s short life and death. Ordained encounters with mamas who found out that their babies had the same heart defects. Divine opportunities to sit alongside parents as they waited and hoped and prayed for their babies to come out of surgery safely.
There was grief like I can’t even explain. Such a backward thing for a parent to outlive their child. In every way, by human standards, it would be considered “wrong” and unfair.
But I have seen again and again over the past almost 18 years, that every one of Mitchell’s nine months and 15 days in my life was ordained. Every minute had purpose.
Mitchell’s short life brought eternal life to so many. His story continues to touch lives even all these years later. His life was so important in God’s plan. And I got to be his mama.
How could I NOT be grateful?